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Bruised Reeds, Second Chances and Finishing Well Part 17: Can You Be Transparent?

For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. 1 Corinthians 15:9-10 (NIV)

Your own transparency displays the power of the gospel. As Tim Keller perceptively observed, “The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.” Admitting our personal sins and flaws to others is real transparency. We cannot teach bruised reeds to trust God to transform them if we cannot trust God by being open about how desperately we need His love and acceptance ourselves.

Tullian Tchividjian said in his blog that admitting the worst parts of himself is never easy. “It’s embarrassing. Every time I stand up and say that I cheated on my first wife, I cringe. It sucks to say that in public. Every time I talk about how deceitful and duplicitous I was, I wince inside,” he wrote. “It’s extremely uncomfortable admitting that stuff in front of a group of people. When I talk about the hurt I caused my family, my friends, my church, and countless others because I was too full of myself to care about anyone more than me, I squirm. Disclosing my insecurities and immaturity, my fears and failures, my selfish ambition and cocky self-interest, is painfully difficult.”

This is hard for a lot of church leaders, who, unlike Paul, throw a blanket over their brokenness in order to maintain the respect they think they need from others. If you practice self-deception, you will have a limited eternal impact on people who need to be changed. They will never think you understand because you are not real, not transparent.

Take, for instance, an exchange a pastor had with a young man he was discipling. This man was frustrated about how poorly he felt he was doing in the area of obedience. He felt tempted to give up on being part of the church. The pastor tried to reassure him that he was going to ‘come out of this valley okay.’ He gave this young man some good theological teaching about the gospel and the Spirit’s work within…but he never took his mask off. He never shared his own personal journey.

The young disciple pushed back with: It does absolutely no good to tell me about the Spirit working and sanctifying and indwelling me, just as it does no good to teach me to laugh. Want me to laugh? Don’t explain to me the mechanics of my diaphragm expanding and contracting rapidly. Just tell me a funny story, and I’ll laugh. In other words he was saying, “Don’t just reason with me. I get the theology. Don’t reteach me biblical doctrine—live it out for me to see. Show me how it is done. Become vulnerable and tell me your story about how God rescued you. Show me how you experience the power of the Spirit.” Without realizing it, this pastor had painted the guy into a corner of hopelessness. In spite of this pastor’s grasp of true doctrine, he was not teaching the gospel with his mask off.

Disciplers need to become transparent. Transparency does not come easy for any of us, but bruised reeds are waiting to see if anyone really lives this stuff. They want to know if anyone has ever been set free from addictive sin, such as pornography or gossip or lying or anger or hoarding or marital unfaithfulness or—you fill in the blank. They want the people to whom they are listening to come out from behind their iron curtain of secrecy and answer the questions: “Does it work?” and “How did God do that in you?” What this means is that to develop transforming disciples, you have to become autobiographical. Not just telling about the theology you want them to believe or even about the good days when by the Spirit you rejected temptation. You have to also tell them about the fall-in-the-pit days where you learned repentance and confession. When you had to learn how to trust the Spirit to free and restore you. And what you are learning today in relationship with the Father, not just years ago.

Believers need hope that God really does change lives. So here is my advice to all of you who want to make an eternal impact on bruised reeds. TAKE OFF YOUR MASK! Stop pretending that your unfinished business was and is of a minor sort. Do not let pride or fear or a misunderstanding of holiness conceal God’s grace at work in you. He changed you, is changing you, and will change you until you are conformed into the likeness of Jesus.

When you take off your mask, you will find that bruised reeds will listen to you because you are one of them.